Daniel Jones needs a breakout year in 2021 to stay in New York long term

Daniel Jones has played better than you might think, but he still needs to improve if he wants to be the long-term starter in New York.

The New York Giants became the subject of ridicule when they selected Daniel Jones No. 6 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. With Jones going into his third NFL season, it’s time to look back at what he accomplished during his first two years in the league.

Daniel Jones’ box score statistics haven’t been encouraging

In his rookie year, Jones made some progress towards dispelling many doubts about his abilities, throwing for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Unfortunately, he failed to keep that momentum going into 2021. Despite starting two more games, Jones’ statistics were worse in most of the major statistical categories.

To Jones’ credit, his interception total dropped slightly to 10. However, that improvement came alongside a slightly worse 2,943 passing yards and an abysmal 11 touchdowns.

On the whole, it was a disappointing regression for Jones. As a general rule, you want to see a quarterback improve during his second season — the fact that the opposite happened for Jones doesn’t bode well.

Daniel Jones’ advanced metrics have been better than you might expect

To help us paint a more complete picture of Jones’ first two seasons, let’s use the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much they contributed to the creation of their statistics, rather than the statistics themselves.

During his rookie year, Jones earned an OVM grade of 23.26. That is far from an elite grade, but it compared competitively to other quarterbacks, ranking 16th out of 39 qualifying players.

Although his box score statistics fell in 2020, Jones’ OVM grade was roughly the same, rising slightly to 24.27 and coming in at 22nd out of 41 players. Those are surprisingly high grades for the oft-maligned Jones. They aren’t anything spectacular, but Jones showed that he could perform at an average level, more than some expected from him.

Taking a closer look at Jones’ weekly grades

For a more nuanced examination of Jones’ performance during his first two NFL seasons, let’s look at how he performed on a weekly basis. In the charts below, you can see his OVM grades from each week since 2019, marked by the black dots. For comparison, the yellow lines represent the average regular-season OVM grades for quarterbacks during those years.

Daniel Jones needs a breakout year in 2021 to stay in New York long term

Daniel Jones needs a breakout year in 2021 to stay in New York long term

As you can see, most of Jones’ grades have come in below the league average. However, he was more inconsistent in 2020 than during his rookie year.

On the one hand, Jones had far more high-level performances last season than he did in 2019. During his rookie campaign, Jones earned just two grades above 30 points. In 2020, he totaled five such games, including the two-highest grades of his career.

On the other hand, 2020 saw Jones earn the worst grade of his career so far — an 8.1-point performance in Week 4.

Those differences might simply be statistical anomalies, but Jones could be an excellent quarterback if he can continue to reach the same peaks while eliminating his low marks.

Examining the advanced metrics

If we want to explain why Jones’ OVM grades were so decidedly mediocre, we need to examine the advanced metrics involved in calculating them.

For the most part, Jones’ metrics have been relatively average. Yet, he excelled in a few areas. For example, in 2019, he threw into tight windows on 22.4% of his pass attempts, the third-highest percentage that season.

However, Jones consistently struggled in one particular area: completion percentages. During his rookie year, Jones completed 61.9% of his passes, the 12th-worst mark in the NFL. According to the NFL’s projections, that was 0.2% lower than expected.

He completed 62.5% of his pass attempts the following season, the eighth-lowest percentage, 0.5% lower than expected.

And while there are many factors involved in being an elite quarterback, it is difficult to be effective if you can’t complete passes.

Rushing stats are a nice bonus, but he needs to do more

One aspect of Jones’ play that we haven’t discussed yet is his ability to run the ball. Although the most memorable moment of his NFL career as a runner is of him tripping on air short of the end zone, Jones is an excellent athlete, adding significant production on the ground.

During his rookie year, Jones rushed for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns. Last season, he did even better, totaling 423 yards and 1 touchdown.

Quarterbacks who can make plays with their legs will always have an advantage over their less-mobile counterparts. The threat of a designed run, combined with their ability to extend plays with their legs, gives defenses extra problems they need to worry about.

Unfortunately for Jones, it is nearly impossible to be an elite quarterback without elite passing skills. Lamar Jackson is the exception, not the rule. If Jones wants to reach that level, he needs to improve dramatically as a passer.

Daniel Jones needs to prove he can be a franchise quarterback in 2021

Although his stats have been underwhelming, the advanced metrics indicate that Jones has played better than you might expect during his first two years in the NFL. That said, his overall level of play has been average at best. And unfortunately, average generally isn’t enough to win championships.

If Jones wants to stay as the starting quarterback in New York, he needs to show real improvement in 2021. If he doesn’t, the Giants might decide that they should search for an upgrade next offseason.

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